In many Georgia litigation cases, actually filing a complaint in court is the option of last resort. Particularly in accident cases where the liability of one party is clear, both parties can typically avoid the time and expense of court time if they can agree to a settlement before a complaint is ever filed. These types of pre-filing resolutions are increasingly popular as parties look to minimize risk and keep costs low. When engaging in settlement, however, the parties must be careful to keep tabs on pending offers and upcoming deadlines or risk losing the opportunity to settle prior to litigation.
This is illustrated in a recent case before the Georgia Court of Appeals. In that case, Y.C. was driving her vehicle in Georgia when she was injured in an accident where M.S. hit her car. After the two parties exchanged information, Y.C. hired an attorney and the attorney sent a demand letter to M.S. for the amount of M.S.’s policy limits, $25,000. The demand letter indicated that M.S. had 30 days to provide payment or the offer would be withdrawn. Over the next few weeks, the parties exchanged emails about the details of a possible settlement, including inquiries into whether any liens existed and how payment would be made. M.S.’s counsel explained that he was “facilitating settlement of the matter.” However, the 30 days passed without actual payment of the demand.
Several weeks later, M.S.’s attorney tendered the payment of the $25,000 check, but Y.C.’s counsel explained that they were rejecting the check because M.S. had delayed beyond the deadline imposed in the demand letter. Y.C. then filed a lawsuit against M.S. for negligence. M.S. filed a motion to enforce the settlement agreement between the parties, but the court denied it, finding that under the terms of the demand letter, M.S. had not accepted Y.C.’s offer. The case continued to trial and the jury awarded Y.C. $700,000. M.S. appealed.